The way I see it ? Reading v Arsenal

Last updated : 20 October 2006 By Jason Hogan

Different strokes for different folks, right? I mean, take my neighbour upstairs for example. He is actually a doctor who smokes 20-30 a day, cannot so much as boil an egg and has either pizza delivery men or some other take away delivery service arriving at his house at some point over the course of virtually every day of every week.

Me? Well, I'll freely admit that I'm the kind of guy that often tends to be rather irresponsible with money (certainly for the liking of my missus) even though by nature I have always been fairly good at maths and I can even lay claim, believe it or not, to the fact that I'm actually a part qualified accountant.

Still, up until last Tuesday and indeed according to my maths, I am sure that I am correct in saying that since we were beaten by the PRF in the Champions League quarter-finals back in 2004, the Arsenal had only suffered defeat just twice in 25 subsequent Champions League games. And, let it not be forgotten that one of those defeats came in the final itself last May

So, given our record in the Champions League over the last couple of years, it seemed strange that last Tuesday night that I found myself almost taking a trip back in time.

Anyone who has read my articles down the years on the website will know about the countless occasions I have sat on that my living room sofa way into the night stewing over what might have been for Arsenal after countless nights of frustration in Europe and for the first time, in quite some time, I found myself back there once again doing the same old thing.

On this particular occasion, after the game in Moscow, I was neither angry nor upset as such, but rueful. Deep down, I knew that we were essentially architects of our own downfall over in Moscow on Tuesday night.

For a start, we may have had a legitimate argument that the pitch in Moscow was far from being the best, but the fact is that we did have an open opportunity to train on it the night before and at least try to gain some appreciation of how bad it actually was and tailor our game if necessary.

Even I knew from past experience that it was highly unlikely that we would be playing on a decent pitch out there. Yet, in spite of his own reservations as to exactly how decent the pitch was going to be, Arsene still chose to follow what has been his usual routine before European games which is to hold training sessions back at our HQ in London Colney and then travel to our European destination as late as possible to fulfil our obligation to the fixture.

So, all things considered it's fair to say, on this particular occasion, that we missed a trick long before the game took place and even then, it didn't excuse the basic errors our highly paid and highly trained football professionals made when the game got underway and it was our chronic inability to effectively execute the fundamental aspects of our game within the first 60-65 minutes that ultimately cost us dear on the night.

CSKA were very cute in the way they approached the game. They effectively played like an away side, sitting deep and looking to prey off our mistakes. It worked a treat as we ended up playing right into their hands time and time again and a text I got from my old buddy Gazza in the second half summed up a large part of the story for us as he rightly said that we seemed hell bent on booking ourselves a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the amount of times we could give the ball away.

At half time, I had a quick chat with Gazza and I told him that we need to go to 4-4-2 and bring on Adebayor up front and play a more direct game. It wasn't until halfway into the second half before he arrived and I thought that was the point where the pattern of the game started to change.

Adebayor's introduction, purely with his more physical presence rather than any obvious skill, meant that the back line of CSKA were given something else to think about and it allowed us to exert more pressure on the Russians than at any time of the game in my view. And as the end of the game approached I got the feeling that we might snatch a goal and it was no initial surprise when Henry latched on to the slightest of flick-ons from Adebayor to slot home past the home goalie.

My joy and indeed relief was short-lived when I saw Henry suddenly turn round with a look of disbelief on his face not only when he saw his attempt ruled out but when the referee booked him! To say that I was nonplussed was an understatement, I was absolutely baffled!!

It meant that the Gunners had to trudge off at the final whistle knowing that whilst they may not have deserved a point, there is absolutely no question that we should have gained a point nonetheless.

Henry, and indeed Wenger, were both understandably furious about it all though it was no surprise that people not connected to the club labelled them both as bad losers and whingers who should accept that the better side won.

Well, for a start, if I had a pound for every time the PRF and particularly ManUre got a point or more that they didn't deserve out of a match, I would probably be retired and living somewhere like the Cayman Islands in a massive house with a garden roughly the size of Essex.

What's more, no matter how badly their team played or how undeserving their sides happen to have been, could you imagine Old Purple Nose or Moaninho seeing their team lose having had a perfectly good goal ruled out and not give it so much as a passing mention? I don't think so. Ferguson would have given the referee what for with both barrels and avoided yet another disrepute charge. And Mourinho? Well, he would have laid the blamed squarely on the shoulders of G14, FIFA, UEFA, the FA, the Premier League, Frank Rijkaard, Johan Cruyff, Bryan Robson or the NHS to name but a few – though not necessarily in that order.

Just for the record, I think that CSKA deserved credit for their performance on the night. I picked out Wagner Love, Dudu and Carvalho all as big threats to us in my preview and all three of them were outstanding on the night.

The three Brazilian lads definitely brought their A games to the table on the night but it will be interesting to see if all three of them can bring them to London on Wednesday week. I'm not usually one for making outright predictions on whether Arsenal will beat this team or that team but on this occasion, I really believe things will turn out differently for us when we get this lot back to The Grove at the start of November and I think, despite our little setback in Moscow, we'll be fine in terms of qualification.

Now it's time to look ahead to our trip to the Madejski Stadium where we will be entertained by Reading.

The Berkshire Boys have become this season's version of Wigan from last year and the parallels between Reading's side this year and the Wigan side of last season are almost uncanny. For a start, they have exactly the same number of points that Wigan had this time last year and anyone who has seen them play will tell you that they have generally approached matches in the Premiership with the same positive attitude that Wigan demonstrated.

What's also a little uncanny is that, having got off to a flying start like Wigan did last year, the fixture list dictated that they would face a series of five matches, four of which happen to be against the top four from last year in the Premiership – almost exactly like Wigan at a similar stage last season.

Having earned a more than honourable draw against ManUre the Saturday before last, the Royals took on the Phoney Russian Franchise last Saturday in a game which, to put it mildly, was not exactly lacking in controversy.

Still, amidst all the controversy and the claims and counter-claims, there was actually a football match played and I have to say that the Royals were desperately unlucky not to come out of it with another honourable point.

The goal that ultimately brought about their defeat was as fluky as you will ever wish to see. And, whilst some sections of the press and the media brushed it off as just the kind of luck that great teams get, I know that there would have been total uproar in the press and the media if we won at Reading in similar circumstances.

Deep down, I'm sure Steve Coppell would have been bitterly disappointed over the cruel manner his side were beaten. They worked like absolute Trojans on the night and, in what was a very tight game with few chances for either side, it would have been interesting to have seen how the game turned out if Kevin Doyle's brilliant effort in the first half had not cannoned back off an upright with the PRF goalie totally beaten all ends up.

Speaking of young Doyle, I have to say that I am a huge fan of his – even though he may be a diehard ManUre fan. Let's put it this way – Robbie Keane may hold the all time goalscoring record for the Republic of Ireland but I don't think you will have to look much further than Doyle as a candidate to break whatever mark Keane sets before he retires from international football. That's an indication of how good I think this boy could turn out to be in the coming years.

I'm also a big fan of the Korean lad Seol down the right. This boy had an in and out time of it at whilst playing for Wolves in the Championship last season but he has been a sure fire revelation at the Madejski this season.

Though he was actually fairly quiet against the PRF last Saturday, I thought he was absolutely outstanding against ManUre the weekend before. He has also proved that he has genuine match-winning qualities too after a fabulous strike to seal a win for the Royals at Upton Park recently. If the Royals can get him the ball in advanced areas the boy will be a real threat.

Ingermarsson and Sonko, the two centre backs, will pose a big threat from set pieces and with the potential absence of the highly talented American youngster Bobby Convey, watch out for a chap called Glenn Little. Now this boy can operate on either wing and he is a demon at crossing balls into the box without necessarily beating a player.

I have mentioned Little specifically here, not just because I think the former Burnley man is a good player but because it's a possibility that the current Public Enemy number 1 in certain peoples eyes, Stephen Hunt, might be diplomatically pulled out of the firing line and it wouldn't surprise me if Little, who is at present at odds with the club as far as his contract situation goes, ends up deputising for Convey as opposed to him.

The Arsenal will also potentially come face to face with no less than four graduates from Arsenal's youth ranks in the shape of John Halls, Graeme Stack, James Harper and Steve Sidwell. In the case of Stack, who arrived at the Madejski via Millwall, it's safe to say that he was very much from the same school of thought as David Bentley in terms of how he saw life at Arsenal. Like Bentley, he accused Arsene of having a bias towards foreign players and that because of that he never really got his chance at Arsenal.

However, unlike Sidwell, he is not even a regular in the Reading starting line-up by any means. Indeed, in stark contrast to Stack, young Sidwell made it clear to the entire nation last week as a guest on Sky's Goals On Sunday how grateful he was to the tutelage or to put it in his own words "the grounding" that he received at Arsenal. The conclusion to be drawn from this is that Sidwell is not the first to come out in praise of Arsene having left the club, he certainly wont be the last and the views expressed once upon a time by Stack are very much an exception rather a rule.

As I said a little earlier on the piece, the parallels between Reading this year and Wigan last year are uncanny and I make no apologies for repeating this. Steve Coppell is the sort of guy that has been round the managerial block for quite some time now. He has had his fingers burnt once or twice in his managerial career and it seems to me that if he has learnt anything from experience in management, it is never to take anything, good or bad, in football neither for granted nor at the same time too personally.

The Reading boss, a bit like Aidy Boothroyd, has developed inner steel and an uncomplicated attitude to whatever he is confronted with. Those qualities have shown themselves up in his team so far and they will not be fazed by playing us one bit.

The Arsenal are in for a real test just off Junction 11 of the M4 but I don't think that is altogether a bad thing. After what happened in Moscow, I feel that we need a game like this to sharpen the minds and get our sights back into focus.

I don't think the game will be as cagey as last week's encounter when Reading played the PRF. I expect to be more of a spectacle. I just hope that the Arsenal end up enjoying it just that little bit more than the Royals and their fans do.